Saturday, November 29, 2008

When did we arrive?

I have been so obsessed with the battle against Proposition 8 that I forgot to notice the clear signs around me. We are winning the war.

Gay people are now assuming positions of greater power and visibility (or more likely, people in positions of greater power and visibility are finally coming out).

One we are very proud of is Rachel Maddow, the new MSNBC cohost. Her keen wit and refreshingly un-bimboesque charisma have at times outrated both Larry King and her own mentor Keith Olberman in prime time. She has been dismissed and ridiculed variously as "chirpy gay liberal" by the Financial Times, "Ooh, Lesbians! Yummy!" by John Gibson, and (naturally) "lesbian Air America host" by Fox News. High praise from wingnuts. They are right to be worried. Sharp as a wasp stinger, Rachel Maddow's CV includes a degree in public policy from Stanford University in 1994, the prestigious John Gardner Fellowship, a Rhodes Scholarship in 1995, and a D. Phil. in political science from Lincoln College, Oxford University.

Another hero is Anderson Cooper, great grandson of the famed Cornelius Vanderbilt II and the very popular and telegenic host of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360°. He has the distinction of having both gone to Yale and having interned (or been interned?) at the Central Intelligence Agency (twice!). For more about his qualifications, see here. I will just dwell on his courage in interviewing (almost naked) someone even better looking than he is without clothes on, Olympic swimmer and medal winner Michael Phelps. The video speaks for itself.

Forgive the double standard. I couldn't find a near-naked video of Rachel Maddow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

David Letterman: why slander is no joke

In a previous post, I called out David Letterman for his anti-gay comments during an interview with James Franco about his role in the movie Milk.

I have noticed comments in numerous other blogs minimizing his "antics" and chalking them up to the "usual infantile behavior" of late-nite insomnedy.

Now I don't get TV reception (I saw this video online), so maybe you're right. That means that the other episodes presumably feature Letterman wearing black face and eating fried chicken, reading his top-ten list of ways that Jews control the world, and telling stupid wetback jokes.

Or could it be that it's just gays that are still fair game for slander and slurs?

There was nothing funny about Supervisor Milk's and Mayor Moscone's assassinations. It was a hate crime even more heinous that that of Matthew Shepard, because in addition to ending the lives of two great men, it targeted the then sole out gay public official (and any "traitorous" straight public official who dared to join him) and with him the promise of hope for a long persecuted group of people.

Dan White was a mentally ill person who resigned from the Board of Supervisors because he was not being paid enough to support his family. His supporters had no such excuse. White Catholic working class, crushed in the recession, gentrified out of the City, and shoved aside by more succussful competing sociopolitical interests, applied great pressure to White to get back his (i.e. their) place at the table. Sickened that some perverted freak had the Mayor's ear (it was indeed Milk who persuaded Moscone not to give White his job back), they (through White) lashed out. Given the anti-gay sentiment (that I well remember) of the time, he had every right to think that the broader public would side with him as well.

They did, buying his Twinkie defense, and he served only five (of seven) years in prison. The White Night riots that ensued at the minimal sentence, along with the prior Stonewall Riots in NYC, launched the gay rights movement, which has continued uninterrupted to this day as we fight for same-sex marriage and an end to senseless expulsion from the military.

Dan White was a straight man who clearly needed to be "less drunk" to kill two men than to kiss one (with this image certainly known to him and fresh in his mind from only three years prior, in what would become a perverse bit of irony).

The Twinkie Defense seems to have morphed into the "I was so drunk" defense, and inured ears do not bristle at it. If so, it is time to de-ure those ears.

Harvey Milk did for gays what César Chávez did for Latinos and what Martin Luther King, Jr. did before them for African Americans, yet I don't hear David Letterman ridiculing those men on national TV.

Watch the movie Milk (released on December 5). If after that, Letterman's jokes about being drunk enough to kiss a man playing Harvey Milk still fail to trigger your gag reflex, then it is not just David Letterman who should be ashamed.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Proposition 8 from a Catholic Perspective (Part 2)

Why churches fear gay marriage

Interesting and insight-filled interview with a gay Mexican-Californian about homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Zo Kwe Zo

There comes a time when the old you no longer fits, and a makeover is in order.

I have renamed my blog (and changed its URL) to reflect the new me.

The phrase "Zo Kwe Zo" is in Sango, the national language of the Central African Republic, a beautiful country that is the heart of Africa where I was lucky enough to be sent for my two years in the U.S. Peace Corps. I hope that in greatly expanding the Peace Corps, President Obama will "send the troops back in". I hope after retiring to be able once again to return again to the CAR as a reentrant PCV.

"Zo Kwe Zo" is the founding motto of the Central African Republic, and means "All People are People", a direct allusion to Thomas Jefferson's line in the U.S. Declaration of Independence that "All Men are Created Equal".

This theme having of late become the central focus of my blog, the pursuit of equality for all, including gays and lesbians, combined with the none-too-soon demise of the Bush Administration, has once again given me optimism in the direction our country is headed.

The powerless Rantings of a Crazed Lunatic, despised and marginalized by a country under the spell of the Religious Right, at last can give way to a more positive expression of belief in the possible, confident that (with effort and furious blogging) we will in my lifetime see the Promised Land, where zo kwe zo.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

David Letterman, the joke is you

What's the difference between David Letterman and Michael Richards? Answer: ridiculing African Americans is no longer tolerated.

While actor James Franco was describing the thrill he felt at costarring with Sean Penn and working with director Gus Van Sant on the film "Milk" about gay activist Harvey Milk, David Letterman was much more tittilated with Franco and Penn kissing.

Watch how James Franco tries to get the interview back on track and explain that he was nervous about getting the kiss authentic (while being watched by those who knew Milk personally), even as Letterman tries vainly but relentlessly to get him to admit that he was grossed out by the hot man-on-man action.

Somewhere between "how drunk are you [to have to kiss a guy]" (2:23) and "we're registered at Target" (3:00), I knew I was watching the death rattle of an old turd passed over for Leno and reduced to a temper tantrum when McCain stood him up.

Letterman ceased to be funny so long ago that I can't get too worked up by his junior high hang-ups. Still, I would have thought, given how many women Rock Hudson kissed on screen ages ago, that this drivel wouldn't pass today for humor.

What kind of perversion is this to be paid several million dollars to kiss Sean Penn? It's called "acting". Clearly, a concept Letterman knows nothing about.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why we can't just agree to disagree

LDS blogger Natasha offers advice to gays on how to deal with the loss of our marriage rights. Right now I am busily preparing reasons why she should leave the LDS Church. Neither piece of advice is likely to be followed.

Luckily, she also provided me a link to a video which very accurately summarizes my views of the role of the LDS Church in taking away my marriage rights. So, with hat tip to Natasha, I post it here as my response to her, why gays will never agree to disagree about same-sex marriage.

No peace without justice.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Power of the People

Free at last.

Obama's election was about freedom. Free from the divisiveness of the former (oops, I mean current Administration!) whose name like Voldemort I dare not even utter for fear of tarnishing the celebratory nature of this post.

Black Americans have won an incredible prize, and they richly deserve it, both as individuals and as a people united in a common struggle for the respect of their peers. This paragraph, and the celebrations around the country, belong to them first and foremost, and for few happy moments others are happy and eager to cede the limelight and the stage.

When those moments have passed, there are other freedoms from this election. Even as Blacks have found victory as a people (and start the slow process of doing without that identification), Whites have stopped acting like a "people", and found it had long ceased to serve them adequately. Latinos still identify weakly as a people, identifying as White and Catholic more than the mantle of La Raza that others keep trying to lay on them.

And then there are the Gays. Yes, we are devastated by the passage of Proposition 8. Yes, we admit that notwithstanding this we have enjoyed a meteoric rise in our struggle over the last ten years never before seen by any oppressed people in our country's history. Yes, we are a diverse group that but for the oppression might splinter and be absorbed by other self-idenfications.

But we are oppressed. We are still We. We are a people. In some ardent discussions I have been party to with some Mormons recently over Proposition 8, I repeatedly ran into a brick wall of understanding that crystallized the problem for us. Those who voted for Prop. 8 did so largely with the understanding that gays were not a people, and could therefore not legitimately take up battle for marriage in the name of civil rights, for these were names that a people used. We were individuals, whose plight to my surprise many Mormons seem strangely sympathetic to, but then it is easy to feel sympathy for individuals: an old woman crossing a street, a homeless man, a disabled veteran, a lost puppy.

Let lost puppies collect and identify as a group, and sympathy is gone. Barking in unison, angry as hell and not going to take the domination of humans any longer. Withholding affection until wet dog food is available at all times of the day. This kind of talk turns even dog lovers queasy. Dressing up your dog in drag, teaching him to walk on hind legs, and do calculus in the dirt, is a marvel. Having him decide to sit at the table and eat breakfast with you is not.

Not so long ago, having a Black entertainer in a nightclub was trendy, too. Having Blacks sit in the audience was not.

It is times like this when we must confront our innermost prejudices. When having the well-traveled wit of your gay best friend at a cocktail party is the definition of class, but having the validity of his marriage celebrated in your child's class is not. When straight women join with lesbians to obtain and defend reproductive choice, but run back home to husband and children before the validity of gender role choice is affirmed.

Will and Grace has been a great boon to gay men. We have proved that the Great Straight Mainstream (GSM) can laugh with us and at the rubes who hate us. But to a gay people, it is running on empty. One challenge of same-sex marriage is that there is nothing funny about it.

Gays have three great challenges left: to be treated as a people who don't have to entertain for their dinner, to act responsibly as a people once accepted as such, and then (like white Americans) to let go of identity politics and allow the full diversity of each individual to grow.

The election of Barack Obama has shown that these steps cannot be skipped, but that to advance requires a coalition of different people from all stages of social progress.

As the Obama Freedom Bus pulled away from the station, we cheered it on its way. Though there was not quite enough room for us onboard, we are hopeful and confident it will be back to pick us up later.

And if it does not, we are prepared to walk.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

With respect, Barack, you are not The One

It is our privilege to call out our enemies, and our duty to call out our friends.

Barack Obama would vote No on Proposition 8. Here, in his own words, is why:

I think it's unnecessary. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage. But when you start playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that's not what America's about. Usually, our constitutions expand liberties, they don't contract them.

President Bill Clinton who, while campaigning for the Presidency, had promised to allow all citizens regardless of sexual orientation to serve openly in the military. Here is what we got instead:

Sexual orientation will not be a bar to service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. The military will discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct, which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender.

    —The Pentagon's New Policy Guidelines on Homosexuals in the Military, The New York Times (July 20, 1993), p.A14.

Barack Obama has evidently learned from the Clintons not to promise what you cannot deliver. His statement to MTV is a friendly warning to the gay community that, unlike Dianne Feinstein, he will not be spending political capital on the radioactive.

Fear not, Barack, you have our total support. We know to take what we can get. There are many progressives sitting on the Obama bandwagon, and we are grateful enough to be on the bus at all that we will obligingly take our seat in the back.

But just between us, you are wrong. You are my hero and you have my vote, but you are not The One.

The One would have known better.

Proposition 8 from a Catholic Perspective

I can best describe my Catholic perspective by departing from the Mormon perspective, which I have examined in previous blog entries. I marveled at the apparent Mormon obsession with same-sex marriage. I realized now that I was wrong.

The obsession is not about sex. It is about gender. This interview with two high-ranking officials of the LDS Church is titled "Same-Gender Attraction". But aren't sex and gender the same thing?

No, and I am glad the LDS Church makes the distinction, because it is very important for them. Sex is about chromosomes (and what you do in the bedroom). Gender is about who you identify as psychologically (and what you do when you are not in the bedroom).

Evangelicals may be obsessed with sex, but the LDS Church rests on the family, anchored by a Male Father and Female Mother.

The Mormon utopia is a well-honed script, where everyone acts their part. I say "acts" and not "plays" because there is no pretending going on. Everyone does their duty, there is no shirking. Utah is the Beehive State for good reason: The LDS Church is a beehive that derives strength from the cooperation and cohesion of its members.

There is no friction in the group because the roles, especially gender roles, are well delineated, with strong positive reinforcement for those trying to lead a good Mormon life (and increasing gradations of negative reinforcement for those who do not).

The strong nuclear family structure, including its highly praiseworthy innovation of a Family Day, one day of the week set aside just for the family along together, provides a safe caring framework for chidren to develop interpersonal skills, a good character with appreciation for the role of mutual obligations and respect. One side effect of this is a fondness for order and distrust of anarchic and ephemeral fads coming from our turbulent greater society.

Too good to be true? That depends on how well you fit the suit. One man's suit is another's straitjacket. Catholics make due with a broader, looser, more chaotic environment, because adherence to Catholic values requires it.

My parents were the ideal Catholics. They wanted a large family and had six children. We too were raised in a manner very similar to Mormons, admittedly in a much more chaotic household. My father had to work long hours and my mother had her hands full.

Somewhat unusually for Catholics, we grew up in an affluent area, so my mother's peers were mostly non-Catholic (and non-Mormon), with two kids, a busy work schedule, and doing their high-powered charity stuff well armed with fancy titles. I suspect many of them may have harbored secret (or not so secret) negative opinions about the traditional lifestyle that my mother was living. My mom was not fazed. She knew that there is no job more important: not in developing the character of a child so much as being a physically present role model of good values as the child forms his or her own character. Like Mormons, Catholic parents also come armed with a script for how to accomplish this best. This needs all the structure that can be brought to bear, so if she could not work outside the home in order to fulfull this mission, then she would not, and did not.

And then along comes a gay son that goes off script. A child hardwired and preordained not to follow in his parents' footsteps, find a wife, get married, have lots of children, and start the process anew. That child was me.

And here is where, generally, as a group and a church, Catholics and Mormons part company.

Mormons value family, but one that fits into the broader LDS context. The Mormon family edifice is a puzzle piece that sits in a larger puzzle, which is more a crystal than a mosaic.Gender roles form the boundary of these puzzle pieces, and a piece that cannot lock to its neighbors, to their mutual cohesion and security, is at risk being left out of the finished product.

For Catholics, there is nothing more important than family. Not God, not Church, not social standing. Catholic atheist is not an oxymoron. Catholics take from their Jewish forbears the obligation to do the right thing for its own sake, even if no one is looking (and even if God is not looking, for atheist Catholics). Like Mormons, Catholics lean heavily on their children to adopt the Catholic way of life, too amorphous a concept to delineate here but well known to any Catholic who has been put through it. As Evangelicals publicly militate to end the right of others to terminate their pregnancy, Catholics work more quietly to improve the conditions for young people to lower the overall number of abortions. Life begins at conception, but does not end at birth. Catholic socal teaching challenges us to gladly pay taxes to fund social welfare, senior care, end-of-life dignity, and is repulsed by the arrogance of terminating the life even of convicted murderers. Catholic families are a necessarily chaotic incubator for these values, and these families fit loosely together in the loose mosaic of like-valued (but not necessarily like-minded) community of Catholics worldwide. Non-Catholics may be surprised at the lack of mention of a priestly hierarchy or Pope. Catholics (as a rule) know better. Priests (and Pope) are like coathangers to help us keep our clothes off the floor, but are not the clothes themselves. They provide paved roads for us to follow (usually the best route to take), but we know when it is better to go offroad to get where we need to.

In very a simplistic comparison: nonreligious children are guided by hope, Evangelical children by fear, Jewish children by guilt, Catholic children by shame, and Mormon children by the threat of exclusion.

When faced with a gay child, Catholic parents are wracked with shame. Where did we go wrong? Where did we fail our child? How can they have a family of their own?

Mormons seem to add to this list one more bridge, and for too many gay Mormons this is a bridge too far: how will my child fit into the LDS Church which, embedded in our larger hostile world, provides an overarching, cohesive, cradle-to-grave-and-beyond universe. A child who falls from this all-encompassing embrace is left with nothing. There cannot be, for it is not dissent that threatens the Mormon ideal, but disorder. A house divided cannot stand. The needs of the whole outweight the needs of the one.

For Catholics, that is far too high a price to pay. The needs of the child are exactly why the family even exists at all.

A Catholic family, though divided, must stand, and will. God himself may abandon (or in turn be abandoned by) such a family, the Law may send one to prison, all of this only strengthens our resolve. If a gay son cannot be straight, then the law, and theology, must give way. Coming to grips with a gay son was very difficult for my mother. Deciding how to vote on Prop. 8 was not. As she repeated told me growing up, she would run up to grizzly bears, jump off bridges, or break through the gates of Hell itself to rescue her chidren. Her greatest fear was that we would not lead a happy and fulfilling life. If same-sex marriage will bring happiness to her children, then she will make it so.

My husband is a proud addition to our family, and at every family gathering he cannot attend (because he has his own parents as well to visit) my family asks why he could not come and how he is doing.

I have written extensively on the various reasons — legal, ethical, moral, psychological, political — that justify my right to marry the man I was meant to be with. My family needed no such rhetorical efforts. Catholics are not typically the intellectuals, trendsetters, troublemakers, entrepreneurs. We are a quiet resolute people, with a few bedrock principles that guide our otherwise amorphous and not easily categorized beliefs. One of these is family.

Marriage was created for the family, not the family for marriage. My Dad is very easygoing, and likes just about everybody. But remember: if you vote yes on Prop. 8, you are not only separating me from my husband, you are separating my father from his son-in-law. And that, no Catholic father will stand for.

Pro-family, pro-marriage: Vote No on Prop. 8.

It is the Catholic thing to do.